第9課: The Particles が & は

Differentiating ga が or wa は (not pronounced as ha) can't be defined by rules. They aren't the same kind of particle, and ga wa がは and wa ga はが are consequently impossible. Even if they may seem to be used similarly, they cannot coexist in the same part of a sentence.

Particles show function, and so it will be absolutely crucial that you focus on the purpose for using them in order to understand how they are used. This lesson does not discuss all the usages of these two particles, but you will leave this lesson with a gist of how they are used to create sentences.

Vocabulary List


・頭 Atama – Head 

・波 Nami – Wave 

・空 Sora – Sky 

・鳥 Tori – Bird 

・雪Yuki – Snow 

・リンゴ Ringo – Apple 

・お茶 Ocha – Tea 

・ゾウ – Elephant 

・鼻 Hana – Nose 

・神社 Jinja – Shinto Shrine 

・フランス人 Furansujin – French person

・アメリカ人 Amerikajin – American person

・イギリス人 Igirisu – English/British person

・中国人 Chūgokujin – Chinese person

・教師 Kyōshi – Teacher 

・先生 Sensei – Teacher/master/doctor

・学生 Gakusei – Student 

・医者 Isha – Doctor

・銀行員 Ginkōin – Banker/bank employee


・彼 Kare – He 

・彼女 Kanojo – She 


・これ Kore – This 

・その Sono – That (adj.)


・いい Ii – Good 

・高い Takai – Tall/high/expensive 

・青い Aoi – Blue 

・赤い Akai – Red 

・悪い Warui – Bad/evil/at fault/sorry 

・難しい Muzukashii – Difficult/hard 

・小さい Chiisai – Small 

・長い Nagai – Long 

・多いŌi – A lot 


・あります Arimasu – to be (inanimate objects) (Polite Verb)

・だ/です Da/desu – to be (Copula)  


・3つ Mittsu – Three items (Counter phrase)

・さん San – Mr./Mr(s). (Polite Title)

・ああĀ – Ah (Interjection)

The Case Particle が

In this lesson, many adjectives and some verbs will be used in the examples. Because we have not discussed how to conjugate more than the basic forms of things (which involves doing nothing) and have not learned how to deal with adjectives or verbs, they will only be used in the non-past tense, which again, involves no additional grammar know-how. 


The grammatical subject of a Japanese sentence may be marked by ga が. Its usages, how these usages relate to each other, and how they relate to similar grammar are so complex that there is no way it can all be mentioned here. Therefore, this lesson should only be seen as a basic introduction.  

A subject is what a predicate "statement" is about. This concept of a "subject" is tied closely to whether something is a "new" piece of information versus a topic of discussion that has to some degree gone past the stage of just being a new piece of information. Consequently, this means that ga が is perfect to show the existence of something. When telling someone that something exists, you aren't assuming that they know about it. 

1. あたまがいい。
   (You're) smart.
     Literally: (Your) head is good.

2. なみたかい。
  The waves are high.

3. そらあおい。
  The sky is blue/It is the sky which is blue.

Nuance Note: Ga が may particularly point something out as the focus of one's statement, and in doing so, a small pause typically follows ga が. Commas aren't necessary for this, but you may see them used here. 

New information does not equate to contrast. It's not that Ex. 4. equates to the bird is red or the bird is red. Providing details is something we do all the time in a conversation, but it's not the case that we make each detail a topic of discussion. If we were to do that, then we would address each detail as the topics of separate statements. Ga が does have an emphatic usage, but in order to know how the particle is really working, context is needed. 

4. そのとりが赤い。
    Sono tori ga akai.
   The bird is red.

 Sense of Discovery

が may show what's found out, whether it be the beginning of a story, discovery itself, etc. 

5. ああ、これがゆきだ!
    Ā, kore ga yuki da! 
    Ah, this is snow!

Nuance Note: It's not always readily obvious that snow is snow, and if you were really surprised that what you see/are holding is in fact snow, you might use Ex. 5. 

There is a problem.

There is money; to have money.

There is a police officer.

The Particle は

Conversations have a topic, which is somewhat familiar to the speaker and listener(s).  は doesn't show new information. Rather,  "AはBだ" shows something of conversational value. To better show how this differs with "AがBだ," compare the following. 

6. リンゴが赤い。
    Ringo ga akai.
    The apple is red. 

Nuance Note: Say you were expecting to see a lot of green apples but before you're eyes you see red apples instead. This is a situation that might provoke Ex. 6 being used.  

7. リンゴは赤い。
    Ringo wa akai. 
    Apples are red/an apple is red/as for apples, they are red.

8. 彼が悪い。
    Kare ga warui.
  He is (who is) bad/the one at fault.

9. 彼は悪い。
    Kare wa warui.
  As for him, he's bad/at fault.

In Ex. 8, the listener(s) may not know him or about this "bad" quality. In Ex. 9, both the speaker and listener(s) know the topic, him, very well.

     Wa は and ga が  are called the topic and subject markers respectively with the understanding that if either is absent, the topic and subject may coincide with each other. If wa は were replaced by ga が, ga が would change the topic into the focus. Focus doesn't mean contrasting with anything. Rather, it draws attention to a statement, and this is in line with everything we've seen about ga が thus far.

Try not to dwell on "topic" versus "subject." These words don't help us a whole lot in using these particles perfectly 100% of the time, but they do help us grasp them well for the meantime. Use them as a rule of thumb, not as some infallible rule.  

Intonation Note: There is normally a small pause that accompanies は when showing a topic.


10. リンゴはちいさい。(Apples would already be the topic of discussion)
      Ringo wa chiisai.
  Apples are small. 

11. これはむずかしい。
      Kore wa muzukashii.
    This is difficult.

12. 私はお(ちゃ)です。
      Watashi wa ocha desu.
  Tea for me. 

Meaning Note: This sentence doesn't mean "I am tea." Wa は doesn't specifically link the subject with the verb.

YはXがZ = Y wa X ga Z

Z is an adjective or verb, and the subject (X) and topic (Y) can flip depending on importance. Typically, though, this is the most natural ordering. This pattern is used to discuss a matter concerning the topic.

13. ゾウははなながい。
       Zō wa hana ga nagai.
  As for elephants, their noses are long.

14. 日本にほんは神社  じんじゃおおい。
      Nihon wa jinja ga ōi.
   Japan has many Shinto shrines. 

Expressing Nationality and Occupation

   Wa は is used when expressing nationality or occupation. To express nationality, all you do is add the suffix -jin 人 to the end of a country name/place of origin. When talking about occupation, you should use polite titles to address others but never for oneself. For oneself, you will need to use the basic words for whatever your occupation may be.

 Furansujin フランスじん  French person Amerikajin アメリカじん  American person
 Igirisujin イギリスじん English person Chūgokujin 中国人ちゅうごくじん Chinese person

 Occupations (Plain) Occupations (Polite)
 Kyōshi 教師きょうし = Teacher Sensei 先生せんせい =  Teacher
 Gakusei 学生がくせい = Student Gakusei-san 学生がくせいさん = Student 
 Isha 医者いしゃ Oisha-san医者いしゃさん = Doctor
 Ginkōin 銀行員ぎんこういん = Banker Ginkō-san銀行員ぎんこういんさん  = Banker

Usage Note: The polite occupations aren't used in reference to oneself. 

15. かれ日本人にほんじんです。(Polite)
       Kare wa nihonjin desu.
  He is Japanese.

16. 彼女かのじょ中国人ちゅうごくじんです。(Polite)
       Kanojo wa chūgokujin desu.
   She is Chinese.

17. 彼女かのじょは先生です。(Polite)
      Kanojo wa sensei desu.
   She is a/the teacher.

Questions:Translate the following.

1. I'm not Japanese. (Polite)
2. I am Chinese. (Polite)
3. Yes, that book is difficult. (Plain)

Part II: Fill in the appropriate particles.

4. リンゴ_3つあります。あれ_赤いです。
    Ringo_mittsu arimasu. Are_akai desu. 
    There are three apples. That's a red apple.

5. あの人_学生です。
    Ano hito_gakusei desu. 
    That person (over there) is a student. 

 Next Lesson → 第??課: Negative & Past


1. Watashi wa nihonjin de wa arimasen. 私は日本人ではありません。
2. Watashi wa chūgokujin desu. 私は中国人です。
3. Hai, sono hon wa muzukashii. はい、その本は難しい。
4. ga が; wa
5. wa